Directed by Jürgen Ellinghaus • Documentary • 2023 • 96 minutes
Shortly before the First World War, the film director Hans Schomburgk embarked with actress Meg Gehrtson on a film expedition to West Africa to shoot adventure films in the then German colony of Togo. Virtually unknown in Togo, the films are a fascinating and disturbing document from the height of Germany’s colonial rule in Africa.
More than a century later, Jürgen Ellinghaus sets out to examine this dark legacy, retracing Schomburgk’s journey in order to show the films in front of Togolese audiences for the first time. Discussions follow public screenings as audience members reflect on the historical context of these images, prompting spirited debates about tradition, stereotypes, and the distorting effects of the colonial gaze. Even as Schomburgk sought to portray an idealized version of village life and perpetuate the myth of Togo as Germany’s “model colony,” this fantasy strains under his own images of forced labor, humiliation, and imperial arrogance.
Interspersing these conversations among Togolese citizens with extensive archival footage, including excerpts from Gehrtson’s 1913 travel diary, Togoland Projections explores this painful history from the perspective of its independent present.